Retrenchment is still the name of the game at the upcoming American Film Market (Feb 19-26), as both buyers and sellers cautiously weigh up the pros and cons of spending money in such a dour economic climate. Yes, they both need new films, but they are both being selective, with Cannes looking more likely as this year's market of new pictures and industry renewal.
"It's impossible to put movies together without equity," said Patrick Wachsberger, the CEO of Summit Entertainment and the co-chairman of IS Film Distribution, Summit's new sales alliance with Intermedia. "Buyers need tentpole movies but they want $120m movies at $90m prices. These films are very difficult to put together because they really do cost that much money these days." One such example is Around The World In 80 Days from Walden Media, sales on which Summit is mopping up at AFM. Wachsberger says that without the equity provided by Walden backer Philip Anschutz and The Anschutz Group, the film could not be financed by conventional methods. Its budget is estimated to be north of $100m.
The newly formed IS of course, is a key source for tentpole pictures, with Wachsberger gearing up for pre-sales on Oliver Stone's Alexander with Colin Farrell and Me Again with Bruce Willis from Intermedia, as well as a new animal-atronic movie Racing Stripes from Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros, at AFM. "With the medium-sized movies, you never know," added Wachsberger. "Bigger movies make buyers feel more protected, but at what price'"
But now that Intermedia and Summit are effectively merged into one supplier, the number of crowded offices at AFM looks likely to be in the single digits. And from those sources, there are a few new major films available.
Elie Samaha may be under a cloud of litigation from his looming court battle with Intertainment AG, but with new investment scored from CA-based Saliba Corp and an ongoing domestic relationship with Warner Bros, his Franchise Pictures is pre-selling new titles from Paul Verhoeven (Void Moon), David Mamet (Spartan) and Kevin Reynolds (Tristan & Isolde).
Graham King's Intermedia-owned IEG, which remains outside the IS fold, will launch Martin Scorsese's The Aviator at AFM with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role and Warner Bros and Miramax sharing domestic distribution. Meanwhile Peter Hoffman's Seven Arts Signature International has a handful of new titles including animated comedy Foodfight! from producer Larry Kassanoff as well as Barbet Schroeder's next film, the drama Shadowboxer starring James Badge Dale and Jessica Lange.
David Glasser at Splendid Pictures however is focusing on pre-selling just one film - the speedboat actioner Redline being produced with former Warner Bros production chief Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Dylan Sellers Productions with MGM handling domestic distribution. "What we did early on was anticipate that a lot of people were in denial," he says. "Because our company is also a buyer in Germany, we have seen the marketplace and so instead of flooding it at AFM with three or four big new pictures, we pulled back a couple and are working hard on Redline as our only new film."
Glasser says that he and his international team already met with numerous foreign buyers on the picture and that they are mulling over offers. "We've been spending time getting through to them and sending them different drafts of the screenplay," he says. "You've got to work on them a lot longer these days. People are going to be taking it slow at AFM and starting to breathe again. We will introduce several big new pictures at Cannes when everyone is up and running."